domingo, 5 de junio de 2011

Anarchy Without Road Maps or Adjectives by Aragorn!

Most tendencies within anarchist circles have a narrow conception of what exactly makes an anarchist, what an anarchist project is, and what the transformation to an anarchist world will look like. Whether Green or Red, Communist or Individualist, Activist or Critical, Anarchists spend as much time defending their own speculative positions on these complicated issues as they do learning what others have to offer — especially other anarchists.

As a result many find that they would prefer to do their projects, political and social, outside of anarchist circles. Either they do not think their particular project is interesting to anarchists but believe it’s important none the less (as in most progressive activism) or they do not particularly enjoy the company of anarchists and the kind of tension that working with anarchists entails. Both reasons are almost entirely accountable to the deep mistrust anarchists have of other anarchists’ programs.

Once upon a time there was an anarchist call for “Anarchism without Adjectives,” referring to a doctrine that tolerated the co-existence of different schools of anarchist thought. Instead of qualifying Anarchism as collectivist, communist, or individualist, Anarchism without Adjectives refused to preconceive economic solutions to a post-revolutionary time. Instead, Anarchism without Adjectives argued that the abolition of authority, not squabbling over the future, is of primary importance.

Today there are as many (if not more) divisions about what the abolition of authority should look like, as there were divisions on the question of the economic program for After the Revolution a hundred and twenty years ago. Anarchist activists (“organizers”) believe that a power-from-below will abolish authority. Class-struggle anarchists believe that the working class will end the authority of capitalist society. Collapsists believe that economic and environmental conditions will inevitably lead to social transformation and an end to authority.

Then again, many anarchists do not believe that the abolition of authority is of primary importance for anarchists at all. Their arguments are that authority cannot be simply understood (it is both capitalism and the state and neither of these). That anarchists do not have the (political, social, people or material) power to bring about this abolition, and that authority has transformed itself into something far more diffuse than the kings and monopolists of the 19th century. If authority can best be understood as a spectacle, today, then it is both diffuse and concentrated. This flexibility on the part of spectacular society has resulted in the effort for the abolition of authority (and the practice of many anarchists), for its own sake, to be perceived as utopian and (spectacularly) ridiculous.

Anarchists of all stripes agree that the revolutionary programs of the past have fallen far short of the total liberation of the oppressed. Leftists believe that the programs were likely to have been right but that the timing and conditions were wrong. Many other anarchists believe that the time for Programs is over. These perspectives are represented in the history of anarchism and are the source of endless contention in the founding of and meetings of anarchist groups.

History should be used to provide the context of these differing perspectives but is, instead, seen as providing evidence for one or another. Instead of trying to understand one another, to communicate, we seem to use the opportunity of our lack of success to fix our positions and argue for decreasing returns.

If anarchy does not have a road map then we (as anarchists) are free to work together. Our projects might not be of the same scale as the general strike, or even the halting of business-as-usual in a major metropolitan area, but they would be anarchist projects. An anarchy without road map or adjectives could be one where the context of the decisions that we make together will be of our own creation rather than imposed upon us. It could be an anarchy of now rather than the hope of another day. It would place the burden of establishing trust on those who actually have a common political goal (the abolition of the state and capitalism) rather than on those who have no goal at all or whose goal is antithetical to an anarchist one.

An anarchy without road map or adjectives does not ignore difference but instead places it in the context that it belongs in. When we are faced with a moment of extreme tension, when everything that we know appears about to change, then we may choose different forks in the road. Until that time anarchists should approach each other with the naïvete that we approach the world with. If we believe that the world can change and could change in a radical direction from the one traveled the past several thousand years then we should have some trust in others who desire the same things.

A Project of Anarchist Organisation (1927) by Errico Malatesta

I recently happened to come across a French pamphlet (in Italy today [1927], as is known, the non-fascist press cannot freely circulate), with the title Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Project).

This is a project for anarchist organisation published under the name of a `Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad' and it seems to be directed particularly at Russian comrades. But it deals with questions of equal interest to all anarchists; and it is, clear, including the language in which it is written, that it seeks the support of comrades worldwide. In any case it is worth examining, for the Russians as for everyone, whether the proposal put forward is in keeping with anarchist principles and whether implementation would truly serve the cause of anarchism.

The intentions of the comrades are excellent. They rightly lament the fact that until now the anarchists have not had an influence on political and social events in proportion to the theoretical and practical value of their doctrines, nor to their numbers, courage and spirit of self-sacrifice — and believe that the main reason for this relative failure is the lack of a large, serious and active organisation.

And thus far I could more or less agree.

Organisation, which after all only means cooperation and solidarity in practice, is a natural condition, necessary to the running of society; and it is an unavoidable fact which involves everyone, whether in human society in general or in any grouping of people joined by a common aim.

As human beings cannot live in isolation, indeed could not really become human beings and satisfy their moral and material needs unless they were part of society and cooperated with their fellows, it is inevitable that those who lack the means, or a sufficiently developed awareness, to organise freely with those with whom they share common interests and sentiments, must submit to the organisations set up by others, who generally form the ruling class or group and whose aim is to exploit the labour of others to their own advantage. And the age-long oppression of the masses by a small number of the privileged has always been the outcome of the inability of the greater number of individuals to agree and to organise with other workers on production and enjoyment of rights and benefits and for defence against those who seek to exploit and oppress them.

Anarchism emerged as a response to this state of affairs, its basic principle being free organisation, set up and run according to the free agreement of its members without any kind of authority; that is, without anyone having the right to impose their will on others. And it is therefore obvious that anarchists should seek to apply to their personal and political lives this same principle upon which, they believe, the whole of human society should be based.

Judging by certain polemics it would seem that there are anarchists who spurn any form of organisation; but in fact the many, too many, discussions on this subject, even when obscured by questions of language or poisoned by personal issues, are concerned with the means and not the actual principle of organisation. Thus it happens that when those comrades who sound the most hostile to organisation want to really do something they organise just like the rest of us and often more effectively. The problem, I repeat, is entirely one of means.

Therefore I can only view with sympathy the initiative that our Russian comrades have taken, convinced as I am that a more general, more united, more enduring organisation than any that have so far been set up by anarchists — even if it did not manage to do away with all the mistakes and weaknesses that are perhaps inevitable in a movement like ours — which struggles on in the midst of the incomprehension, indifference and even the hostility of the majority — would undoubtedly be an important element of strength and success, a powerful means of gaining support for our ideas.

I believe it is necessary above all and urgent for anarchists to come to terms with one another and organise as much and as well as possible in order to be able to influence the direction the mass of the people take in their struggle for change and emancipation.

Today the major force for social transformation is the labour movement (union movement) and on its direction will largely depend the course events take and the objectives of the next revolution. Through the organisations set up for the defence of their interests the workers develop an awareness of the oppression they suffer and the antagonism that divides them from the bosses and as a result begin to aspire to a better life, become accustomed to collective struggle and solidarity and win those improvements that are possible within the capitalist and state regime. Then, when the conflict goes beyond compromise, revolution or reaction follows. The anarchists must recognise the usefulness and importance of the union movement; they must support its development and make it one of the levers in their action, doing all they can to ensure that, by cooperating with other forces for progress, it will open the way to a social revolution that brings to an end the class system, and to complete freedom, equality, peace and solidarity for everybody.

But it would be a great and a fatal mistake to believe, as many do, that the labour movement can and should, of its own volition, and by its very nature, lead to such a revolution. On the contrary, all movements based on material and immediate interests (and a big labour movement can do nothing else) if they lack the stimulus, the drive, the concerted effort of people of ideas, tend inevitably to adapt to circumstances, they foster a spirit of conservatism and fear of change in those who manage to obtain better working conditions, and often end up creating new and privileged classes, and serving to uphold and consolidate the system we would seek to destroy.

Hence there is an impelling need for specifically anarchist organisations which, both from within and outside the unions, struggle for the achievement of anarchism and seek to sterilise all the germs of degeneration and reaction.

But it is obvious that in order to achieve their ends, anarchist organisations must, in their constitution and operation, remain in harmony with the principles of anarchism; that is, they must know how to blend the free action of individuals with the necessity and the joy of cooperation which serve to develop the awareness and initiative of their members and a means of education for the environment in which they operate and of a moral and material preparation for the future we desire.

Does the project under discussion satisfy these demands?

It seems to me that it does not. Instead of arousing in anarchists a greater desire for organisation, it seems deliberately designed to reinforce the prejudice of those comrades who believe that to organise means to submit to leaders and belong to an authoritarian, centralising body that suffocates any attempt at free initiative. And in fact it contains precisely those proposals that some, in the face of evident truths and despite our protests, insist on attributing to all anarchists who are described as organisers. Let us examine the Project.

First of all, it seems to me a mistake — and in any case impossible to realise — to believe that all anarchists can be grouped together in one `General Union' — that is, in the words of the Project, In a single, active revolutionary body.

We anarchists can all say that we are of the same party, if by the word `party' we mean all who are on the same side, that is, who share the same general aspirations and who, in one way or another, struggle for the same ends against common adversaries and enemies. But this does not mean it is possible — or even desirable — for all of us to be gathered into one specific association. There are too many differences of environment and conditions of struggle; too many possible ways of action to choose among, and also too many differences of temperament and personal incompatibilities for a General Union, if taken seriously, not to become, instead of a means for coordinating and reviewing the efforts of all, an obstacle to individual activity and perhaps also a cause of more bitter internal strife.

As an example, how could one organise in the same way and with the same group a public association set up to make propaganda and agitation, publicly and a secret society restricted by the political conditions of the country in which it operates to conceal from the enemy its plans, methods and members? How could the educationalists, who believe that propaganda and example suffice for the gradual transformation of individuals and thus of society, adopt the same tactics as the revolutionaries, who are convinced of the need to destroy by violence a status quo that is maintained by violence and to create, in the face of the violence of the oppressors, the necessary conditions for the free dissemination of propaganda and the practical application of the conquered ideals? And how to keep together some people who, for particular reasons, do not get on with; and respect one another and could never be equally good and useful militants for anarchism?

Besides, even the authors of the Project (Platforme) declare as `inept' any idea of creating an organisation which gathers together the representatives of the different tendencies in anarchism. Such an organisation, they say, `incorporating heterogeneous elements, both on a theoretical and practical level, would be no more than a mechanical collection (assemblage) of individuals who conceive all questions concerning the anarchist movement from a different point of view and would inevitably break up as soon as they were put to the test of events and real life.'

That's fine. But then, if they recognise the existence of different tendencies they will surely have to leave them the right to organise in their own fashion and work for anarchy in the way that seems best to them. Or will they claim the right to expel, to excommunicate from anarchism all those who do not accept their programme? Certainly they say they `want to assemble in a single organisation' all the sound elements of the libertarian movement; and naturally they will tend to judge as sound only those who think as they do. But what will they do with the elements that are not sound?

Of course, among those who describe themselves as anarchists there are, as in any human groupings, elements of varying worth; and what is worse, there are some who spread ideas in the name of anarchism which have very little to do with anarchism. But how to avoid the problem? Anarchist truth cannot and must not become the monopoly of one individual or committee; nor can it depend on the decisions of real or fictitious majorities. All that is necessary — and sufficient — is for everyone to have and to exercise the widest freedom of criticism and for each one of us to maintain their own ideas and choose for themselves their own comrades. In the last resort the facts will decide who was right.

Let us therefore put aside the idea of bringing together all anarchists into a single organisation and look at this General Union which the Russians propose to us for what it really is — namely the Union of a particular fraction of anarchists; and let us see whether the organisational method proposed conforms with anarchist methods and principles and if it could thereby help to bring about the triumph of anarchism.

Once again, it seems to me that it cannot.

I am not doubting the sincerity of the anarchist proposals of those Russian comrades. They want to bring about anarchist communism and are seeking the means of doing so as quickly as possible. But it is not enough to want something; one also has to adopt suitable means; to get to a certain place one must take the right path or end up somewhere else. Their organisation, being typically authoritarian, far from helping to bring about the victory of anarchist communism, to which they aspire, could only falsify the anarchist spirit and lead to consequences that go against their intentions.

In fact, their General Union appears to consist of so many partial organisations with secretariats which ideologically direct the political and technical work; and to coordinate the activities of all the member organisations there is a Union Executive Committee whose task is to carry out the decisions of the Union and to oversee the `ideological and organisational conduct of the organisations in conformity with the ideology and general strategy of the Union.'

Is this anarchist? This, in my view, is a government and a church. True, there are no police or bayonets, no faithful flock to accept the dictated ideology; but this only means that their government would be an impotent and impossible government and their church a nursery for heresies and schisms. The spirit, the tendency remains authoritarian and the educational effect would remain anti-anarchist.

Listen if this is not true.

`The executive organ of the general libertarian movement — the anarchist Union — will introduce into its ranks the principle of collective responsibility; the whole Union will be responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of every member; and each member will be responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of the Union.'

And following this, which is the absolute negation of any individual independence and freedom of initiative and action, the proponents, remembering that they are anarchists, call themselves federalists and thunder against centralisation, `the inevitable results of which', they say, `are the enslavement and mechanisation of the life of society and of the parties.'

But if the Union is responsible for what each member does, how can it leave to its individual members and to the various groups the freedom to apply the common programme in the way they think best? How can one be responsible for an action if it does not have the means to prevent it? Therefore, the Union and in its name the Executive Committee, would need to monitor the action of the individual members and order them what to do and what not to do; and since disapproval after the event cannot put right a previously accepted responsibility, no-one would be able to do anything at all before having obtained the go-ahead, the permission of the committee. And on the other hand, can an individual accept responsibility for the actions of a collectivity before knowing what it will do and if he cannot prevent it doing what he disapproves of?

Moreover, the authors of the Project say that it is the `Union' which proposes and disposes. But when they refer to the wishes of the Union do they perhaps also refer to the wishes of all the members? If so, for the Union to function it would need everyone always to have the same opinion on all questions. So if it is normal that everyone should be in agreement on the general and fundamental principles, because otherwise they would not be and remain united, it cannot be assumed that thinking beings will all and always be of the same opinion on what needs to be done in the different circumstance and on the choice of persons to whom to entrust executive and directional responsibilities.

In reality — as it emerges from the text of the Project itself — the will of the Union can only mean the will of the majority, expressed through congresses which nominate and control the Executive Committee and decide on all the important questions. Naturally, the congresses would consist of representatives elected by the majority of member groups, and these representatives would decide on what to do, as ever by a majority of votes. So, in the best of cases, the decisions would be taken by the majority of a majority, and this could easily, especially when the opposing opinions are more than two, represent only a minority.

Furthermore it should be pointed out that, given the conditions in which anarchists live and struggle, their congresses are even less truly representative than the bourgeois parliaments. And their control over the executive bodies, if these have authoritarian powers, is rarely opportune and effective. In practice anarchist congresses are attended by whoever wishes and can, whoever has enough money and who has not been prevented by police measures. There are as many present who represent only themselves or a small number of friends as there are those truly representing the opinions and desires of a large collective. And unless precautions are taken against possible traitors and spies — indeed, because of the need for those very precautions — it is impossible to make a serious check on the representatives and the value of their mandate.

In any case this all comes down to a pure majority system, to pure parliamentarianism .

It is well known that anarchists do not accept majority government (democracy), any more than they accept government by the few (aristocracy, oligarchy, or dictatorship by one class or party) nor that of one individual (autocracy, monarchy or personal dictatorship).

Thousands of times anarchists have criticised so-called majority government, which anyway in practise always leads to domination by a small minority.

Do we need to repeat all this yet again for our Russian comrades?

Certainly anarchists recognise that where life is lived in common it is often necessary for the minority to come to accept the opinion of the majority. When there is an obvious need or usefulness in doing something and, to do it requires the agreement of all, the few should feel the need to adapt to the wishes of the many. And usually, in the interests of living peacefully together and under conditions of equality, it is necessary for everyone to be motivated by a spirit of concord, tolerance and compromise. But such adaptation on the one hand by one group must on the other be reciprocal, voluntary and must stem from an awareness of need and of goodwill to prevent the running of social affairs from being paralysed by obstinacy. It cannot be imposed as a principle and statutory norm. This is an ideal which, perhaps, in daily life in general, is difficult to attain in entirety, but it is a fact that in every human grouping anarchy is that much nearer where agreement between majority and minority is free and spontaneous and exempt from any imposition that does not derive from the natural order of things.

So if anarchists deny the right of the majority to govern human society in general — in which individuals are nonetheless constrained to accept certain restrictions, since they cannot isolate themselves without renouncing the conditions of human life — and if they want everything to be done by the free agreement of all, how is it possible for them to adopt the idea of government by majority in their essentially free and voluntary associations and begin to declare that anarchists should submit to the decisions of the majority before they have even heard what those might be?

It is understandable that non-anarchists would find Anarchy, defined as a free organisation without the rule of the majority over the minority, or vice versa, an unrealisable utopia, or one realisable only in a distant future; but it is inconceivable that anyone who professes to anarchist ideas and wants to make Anarchy, or at least seriously approach its realisation — today rather than tomorrow — should disown the basic principles of anarchism in the very act of proposing to fight for its victory.

In my view, an anarchist organisation must be founded on a very different basis from the one proposed by those Russian comrades.

Full autonomy, full independence and therefore full responsibility of individuals and groups; free accord between those who believe it useful to unite in cooperating for a common aim; moral duty to see through commitments undertaken and to do nothing that would contradict the accepted programme. It is on these bases that the practical structures, and the right tools to give life to the organisation should be built and designed. Then the groups, the federations of groups, the federations of federations, the meetings, the congresses, the correspondence committees and so forth. But all this must be done freely, in such a way that the thought and initiative of individuals is not obstructed, and with the sole view of giving greater effect to efforts which, in isolation, would be either impossible or ineffective. Thus congresses of an anarchist organisation, though suffering as representative bodies from all the above-mentioned imperfections, are free from any kind of authoritarianism, because they do not lay down the law; they do not impose their own resolutions on others. They serve to maintain and increase personal relationships among the most active comrades, to coordinate and encourage programmatic studies on the ways and means of taking action, to acquaint all on the situation in the various regions and the action most urgently needed in each; to formulate the various opinions current among the anarchists and draw up some kind of statistics from them — and their decisions are not obligatory rules but suggestions, recommendations, proposals to be submitted to all involved, and do not become binding and enforceable except on those who accept them, and for as long as they accept them.

The administrative bodies which they nominate — Correspondence Commission, etc. — have no executive powers, have no directive powers, unless on behalf of those who ask for and approve such initiatives, and have no authority to impose their own views — which they can certainly maintain and propagate as groups of comrades, but cannot present as the official opinion of the organisation. They publish the resolutions of the congresses and the opinions and proposals which groups and individuals communicate to them; and they serve — for those who require such a service — to facilitate relations between the groups and cooperation between those who agree on the various initiatives. Whoever wants to is free to correspond with whomsoever he wishes, or to use the services of other committees nominated by special groups.

In an anarchist organisation the individual members can express any opinion and use any tactic which is not in contradiction with accepted principles and which does not harm the activities of others. In any case a given organisation lasts for as long as the reasons for union remain greater than the reasons for dissent. When they are no longer so, then the organisation is dissolved and makes way for other, more homogeneous groups.

Clearly, the duration, the permanence of an organisation depends on how successful it has been in the long struggle we must wage, and it is natural that any institution instinctively seeks to last indefinitely. But the duration of a libertarian organisation must be the consequence of the spiritual affinity of its members and of the adaptability of its constitution to the continual changes of circumstances. When it is no longer able to accomplish a useful task it is better that it should die.

Those Russian comrades will perhaps find that an organisation like the one I propose and similar to the ones that have existed, more or less satisfactorily at various times, is not very efficient.

I understand. Those comrades are obsessed with the success of the Bolsheviks in their country and, like the Bolsheviks, would like to gather the anarchists together in a sort of disciplined army which, under the ideological and practical direction of a few leaders, would march solidly to the attack of the existing regimes, and after having won a material victory would direct the constitution of a new society. And perhaps it is true that under such a system, were it possible that anarchists would involve themselves in it, and if the leaders were men of imagination, our material effectiveness would be greater. But with what results? Would what happened to socialism and communism in Russia not happen to anarchism?

Those comrades are anxious for success as we are too. But to live and to succeed we don't have to repudiate the reasons for living and alter the character of the victory to come.

We want to fight and win, but as anarchists — for Anarchy.


Il Risveglio (Geneva),

October 1927

“Facing the Enemy”: A platformist interpretation of the history of anarchist organization by Jason McQuinn

Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968 by Alexandre Skirda, translated by Paul Sharkey (AK Press, POB 40682, San Francisco, CA 94140-0682, USA; AK Press, POB 12766, Edinburgh, EH8 9YE, Scotland; & Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London, WC1 3XX, England; 2002) 292 pp., $17.95 paper.

Any history of anarchist currents and movements must also be a history of their organization. Radical ideas and practices are nothing if not aspects of a social engagement whose own content and structure both anticipate the new society that is desired. In fact, the theory and critique of organization has consistently been one of the most central and contested concerns of anarchists since Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Faure, Malatesta, Kropotkin and many, many others gave world-historical shape to the anarchist movement in the 19th Century.

It thus remains extremely important to this day for all anarchists to fully understand not only the major anarchist theories and critiques of organization, but also the history of the actual forms of organization used by anarchists around the world in well over a century of often highly-effective practice. Unfortunately, Alexandre Skirda in Facing the Enemy isn’t going to be the person to write this history, despite Paul Sharkey’s misleading English translation of the subtitle of the book as A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to May 1968. (The original French title and subtitle actually translate more literally as “Individual Autonomy and Collective Force: Anarchists and Organization from Proudhon to our time.”)

What Skirda is equipped to do is something much narrower, that is to write a polemical platformist interpretation of the history of anarchist organization. Facing the Enemy is certainly not without value in providing a revealing look into the machinations of Marx in the First International, the various incarnations of Bakunin’s secret societies, the effects of police interventions, and the manipulative mindsets and practices of those adopting platformist ideology, primarily in France. However, as a history of anarchist organization in general the book is often biased, intentionally incomplete, and occasionally illogical — quite clearly reflecting the limitations of the platformist ideology it preaches.

Every anarchist (and every would-be revolutionary) should take some time to study the history of the First International. However, given the apparent decline of interest within the anarchist milieu in unearthing its own history (paralleling a decline in interest in history within the larger media-saturated, spectator/internet society), even reading a short account like Skirda’s would improve on most anarchists’ knowledge of the situation. Of particular interest here is the period following the demise Marx’s rump First International after he safely deposited it’s General Council with stooges in New York — a period of anarchist agitation too-often ignored in most of the full-scale accounts of the Marx/Bakunin, centralist/federalist conflict in the International.

Skirda’s quick review of a few of Bakunin’s various organizational schemes and programs for his Alliances and International Brotherhoods is another worthwhile contribution to anarchist history, especially since most biographical and historical studies of Bakunin and those he influenced were done before important source materials were excavated in recent decades. However, Bakunin’s penchant for invisible, “collective dictatorship” (p. 15), always unsettling to anti-authoritarians who study his ideas, is played down a bit too unconvincingly here. Secret societies of revolutionaries make much more sense when anarchists operate in countries where all radical speech is suppressed (as Bakunin most often did). But the invisible “dictatorship” of anarchist revolutionaries from within the masses is a formulation just as much given to authoritarian tensions as the more well-known and oft-criticized Marxist formulation of “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Another valuable aspect of Skirda’s account of anarchist history is his periodic focus on the effects of police surveillance, infiltration and provocation. This has huge implications for contemporary anarchists. There are the obvious dangers for autonomous, small-group activities (primarily the odd provocateur urging worthless or suicidal acts of violence, since widespread infiltration and surveillance are more difficult in such groups). While there are also many dangers for larger sectarian groupings or the various types of federation (more obviously revealed in accounts of the COINTELPRO destabilization of the ’60s & ’70s New Left in the US, particularly aimed at the Black Panthers and AIM), in which surveillance and infiltration are much easier, as are attempts to incite internecine strife.

However, like most platformists (and like authoritarians in general), Skirda considers many important historical anarchist ideas and criticisms of organization to be impractical or inefficient because under free self-organization there is nothing to compel anarchists to fall into line as a disciplined mass of followers under a unitary ideology at the call of their leadership. Like too many organizationalists he prefers to condemn any anarchists who balk at attempts to discipline and control them, ridiculing their refusals to subordinate their own judgments for those of more-or-less democratic processes or less-than-transparent organizational directives. This is where sneering efforts at manipulation of the reader enter his narrative more and more frequently, as in chapter 8: “Anti-organizationists and bombers.” Skirda is as well aware as anyone else that political bombings have been by far more often the work of organizations than of isolated, demoralized individuals, and that even within the anarchist milieu around the end of the 19th century attentats weren’t predominantly the work of anarchist individualists, much less the semi-mythical “anti-organizationists.”

Relying on a piece of testimony at a trial as his only flimsy evidence, Skirda concludes that all the anarchist groups in 1880s Paris were really non-existent except as “temporary get-togethers,” with “no connection and no coordination involved” even between groups in federation. If a formal platform, membership cards or dues, and a secretariat didn’t exist, then, for the organizational fetishists, obviously there was no organization involved! Similarly, for the authoritarian left, without formal offices of leadership and means of controlling members, only chaos can ensue. Both views oppose the full range of anarchist self-organization, which can be formal or informal, depending upon its purposes and the situations in faces.

Neither is Skirda very clear in his analysis of the various illegalist, insurrectionary, “propaganda of the deed” tendencies which came to prominence in the anarchist milieu of the 1870s and 1880s, at times mixing the various ideas, and portraying them as a single phenomenon centering on the coincidental movement-wide infatuation with dynamite and attentats. In its most general meaning, of course, “propaganda by deed” signifies, as Malatesta said, the “act of insurrection, designed to assert socialist principles by deeds” (p. 39), or in more contemporary terms, the potentially exemplary nature of direct action. And anarchist illegalism at its most basic refuses to acknowledge capitalist laws as in any way valid limits to anarchist activity. While insurrectionary anarchism advocates support for the immediate break with all hierarchical, capitalist institutions and social relations whenever and wherever possible.

Clearly, the most effective anarchist propaganda will always be the actual, direct implementation of anarchist social relationships, and in this sense “propaganda by deed” has always been a core practice of most anarchists, despite the ill repute gained by the term itself after it became much more narrowly associated with bombings and attentats in the popular mind. And the most effective anarchists have always refused to be limited by the laws imposed by state and capital to maintain our slavery, though the term “illegalism” has also fallen into ill repute after being associated with a few particular French anarchists whose law-breaking tended to stretch the credulity of their commitments to anarchism. While every form of social revolutionary anarchism has always advocated insurrectionary practice, since without a complete break with capitalist social institutions revolution is clearly impossible — though the question of appropriate timing for insurrectionary acts remains widely contested.

To criticize any of these three aspects of anarchist practice should always call for careful distinctions to be made in what is being criticized. Ignorant claims that “propaganda by deed” necessarily requires bombings or tyrannicide ignore the fruitful history of anarchist direct action (as well as the fact that some bombings and tyrannicides have at times been appropriate and effective). While condemnations of illegalism often ignore the fact that every genuine revolt necessarily involves the repudiation of all illegitimate, capitalist laws. And categorical repudiations of insurrectionary practice always in imply the defense of the institutions of capital and state, which will never wither away without our active participation in their demise.

Just as importantly, no one should lose sight of the that the relatively brief anarchist craze for dynamite and fulminates of mercury, along with assassinations by dagger or pistol, in the decades immediately before and after the turn of the 19th to the 20th century has little to do with the more general validity of extra-legal direct action and insurrectionary or revolutionary violence. While individual and small-group attentats have sometimes been the work of despairing solidarity (like Alexander Berkman’s attempted assassination of the industrialist mass-murderer Frick), they have often been tactically and strategically effective (like the activities of some of the anarchist pistoleros in Spain).

Which brings up the strangest aspect of Skirda’s platformist interpretation of anarchist organizational history. The FAI (the Iberian Anarchist Federation) is almost absent from his analysis, despite the fact that this notorious federation may be the one example of an anarchist organization that is admired by social revolutionary anarchists of all tendencies — at least so far as I’m aware. I’m sure the fact that the FAI’s practice in the decade leading up to the Spanish Revolution was contrary to platformist dogmas has a part to play in Skirda’s avoidance of the subject, but no platformist interpretation of history will ever convince anyone by ignoring the most historically important example of a large anarchist federation. However, rather than discussing the actual organizational structure and dynamics of the FAI, Skirda is content to complain that the FAI ought to have followed the Platform instead of ignoring it. And after this he gives a confusing account of the CNT refusal of social revolution and policy of collaboration with political authorities. And this without indicating the faintest understanding that the only genuine revolutionary question posed in 1936 was whether the people in arms would organize their own social revolution (which they attempted throughout much of the countryside) or submit to authorities, whether those authorities were constituted in Madrid, the Catalan Generalitat, or the CNT and UGT (as they largely did in Barcelona and other cities).

The usefulness of Skirda’s history plummets with his account of the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Suddenly the poor, misunderstood Organizational Platform is portrayed as the be-all and end-all of anarchism. The general opposition within the international anarchist movement to the more unsavory aspects of the Platform must be explained away, distorted, undermined with personal innuendo and accusations of petty plots. And a minority organizational practice which has never accomplished much of lasting value within the international anarchist movement becomes the complete center of attention for Skirda, as though the vast majority of non-platformist and anti-platformist anarchists count for little or nothing. In fact, Skirda often demeans the vast majority of anarchists, their ideas and practices as chaotic individualist nut-cases of one sort or another. This despite the fact that platformists, for all their delusionary bombast about organizing “all of the wholesome elements of the anarchist movement into one umbrella organization” (p. 211), have almost always attracted only a small minority of anarchists to follow their sectarian tenets, often only those least committed to anarchist principles to begin with.

In one of his illogical tirades against opponents of the Platform (p. 142), Skirda exclaims: “If one wanted to reject [the Platform], then one also had to throw out ‘the baby with the bathwater,’ that is, repudiate what was...the most radical revolutionary experiment of the century.” Which of course is nonsensical in the extreme. The Makhnovist experiment was one of the most radical of the century, but that experiment had nothing directly to do with injecting authoritarian leftist organizational practices into the anarchist milieu ten years later!

Skirda continues, not understanding how any anarchist could ever oppose the incoherent synthesis of leftist organization and anarchist ideology proposed by the Platform: “Who could challenge that? Always the same old figures, the usual ditherers, the incorrigible blatherers, all those who in the end had something to lose, be it their petty vanity, or ultimately cozy position in established society. That said, the loudest opposition came from the Russian émigré community...and a handful of anarchist elders.” But all was not lost for Skirda, since years later a few platformist-inspired groups managed to organize themselves and carry on the ever-misunderstood, ever-persecuted cause. Of course, the actual practice of some of these platformist groups proved to be a pathetic travesty, with platformists taking secret control of the French post-World War II Anarchist Federation with a manipulative scheme worthy of any power-hungry Marxist-Leninists (recounted in Chapter 18).

Despite its many failures, Facing the Enemy is an important book and I recommend that every anarchist seriously committed to encouraging social revolution read it. Along with chronicling an episodic, Eurocentric and polemical (but still worthwhile) history of anarchism, it provides a fairly comprehensive catalog of the most tempting authoritarian, leftist compromises that cut the heart out of anarchist practice and turn anarchist theory into a rigid ideology. Ultimately, the unintended message of Skirda’s book is that not only is the platformism it pushes hopelessly anachronistic in today’s anarchist milieu, but historically it has been the ideology of demoralized losers.

viernes, 3 de junio de 2011

Reply by several Russian Anarchists to the ‘Platform’ by Various Authors

Photo: Senya Fleshin, Volin, Mollie Steimer

Reasons for the Weakness of the Anarchist Movement

We do not agree with the position of the Platform ‘that the most important reason for the weakness of the anarchist movement is the absence of organisational principles’. We believe that this issue is very important because the Platform seeks to establish a centralised organisation (a party) that would create ‘a political and tactical line for the anarchist movement’. This over emphasises the importance and role of organisation.

We are not against an anarchist organisation; we understand the harmful consequences of a lack of organisation in the anarchist movement; we consider the creation of an anarchist organisation to be one of our most urgent tasks . . . But we do not believe that organisation, as such, can be a cure-all. We do not exaggerate its importance, and we see no benefit or need to sacrifice anarchist principles and ideas for the sake of organisation. We see the following reasons for the weakness of the anarchist movement:

- The confusion in our ideas about a series of fundamental issues. such as the conception of the social revolution, of violence, of the period of transition, of organisation.

- The difficulty of getting a large part of the population to accept our ideas. We must take into account existing prejudices, customs, education, the fact that the great mass of people will look for an accommodation rather than radical change.

- Repression.

The Anarchist Synthesis

We also disagree with the idea of a ‘synthesis’, as stated in the Platform. The authors proclaim that anarchist-communism is the only valid theory, and they take a critical, more or less, negative position toward individualist anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists.

We repeat what we declared when we organised NABAT (Organisation of Ukrainian anarchists in 1917-1921): ‘There is validity in all anarchist schools of thought. We must consider all diverse tendencies and accept them.’ To unite all militants we must seek a common base for all, seeing what is just in each concept. This should be included in a Platform for the entire movement. There are several examples of such a Platform, such as the declaration of the Nabat Conference in Kursk, as well as the resolutions of other anarchist conferences of that period. Here are some extracts of the resolution adopted at the First Congress of the Confederation of Anarchist Organisations in the Ukraine, ‘NABAT’, that took place April 2, 1919, in Elizabethgrad, Ukraine:

‘. . . our organisation does not represent a mechanical alliance of different tendencies, each holding only to its own point of view and, therefore, unable to offer ideological guidance to the working population; it is a union of comrades joined together on a number of basic positions and with an awareness of the need for planned, organised collective effort on the basis of federation.’

Anarchism as a Theory of Classes

Synthesis is needed in this area also. We cannot affirm that anarchism is a theory of classes and reject those who try to give it a human character. And we cannot declare like some do that anarchism is a humanitarian ideal for all people and accuse those who hold to a class base of marxist deviation. Nor, finally, can we maintain that anarchism is solely an individualist conception having nothing to do with humanity as a whole or with a ‘class’. We must create a synthesis and state that anarchism contains class elements as well as humanism and individualist principles.

We must try to determine in a theoretical and practical manner the role and importance of each of these elements in the conception of anarchism. To maintain that anarchism is only a theory of classes is to limit it to a single viewpoint. Anarchism is more complex and pluralistic, like life itself. Its class element is above all its means of fighting for liberation; its humanitarian character is its ethical aspect, the foundation of society; its individualism is the goal of mankind.
The Role of the Masses and Anarchism in the Social Struggle and the Social Revolution

The thesis of the Platform on this question can be summarised as follows: the masses must be directed. The contrary viewpoint was the prevailing one in our movement until now: individuals and conscious minority, including their ideological organisations, cannot ‘direct the masses’. We must learn from the masses constantly if we do not want to lead them into a blind alley.

This is how the problem should be seen. Their solution is very superficial and false because the central problem is not resolved: the revolutionary masses and the conscious minority or their ideological organisations. The political parties have an advantage in this area: it is not a problem for them. Their solution is:

* the masses and developments must be directed;

* the conscious minority, separated from the masses, must take the initiative;

* this ‘collective’ must be organised into a party;

* the party takes the initiative in all areas, including the social revolution.

The authors of the Platform take a similar position. However they choose to begin with some precaution: ‘The ideological direction of revolutionary activities and revolutionary movements should not be understood as a tendency of the anarchists to take control of the building of the new society.’

The Platform expresses the idea that the need to direct the masses is linked directly to a party, a well defined political line, a predetermined program, control of the labour movement, political direction of the organisations created to fight the counter-revolution. The Platform states: ‘The anarchist union as an organisation of the social revolution rests on the two main classes of society: the workers and the peasants . . . all their energies must be concentrated on the ideological guidance of the labour organisations.’

The concrete form of organisation needed to achieve such political and social direction of the masses and their actions will be: at the highest level, the leading party (General Union); a little below: the higher levels of the workers and peasants organisations led by the Union; still lower: the organisations at the base set up to fight the counter-revolution, the army, etc.

We do not believe that the anarchists should lead the masses; we believe that our role is to assist the masses only when they need such assistance. This is how we see our position: the anarchists are part of the membership in the economic and social mass organisations. They act and build as part of the whole. An immense field of action is opened to them for ideological, social and creative activity without assuming a position of superiority over the masses. Above all they must fulfills their ideological and ethical influence in a free and natural manner.

The anarchists and specific organisations (groups, federations, confederations) can only offer ideological assistance, but not in the role of leaders. The slightest suggestion of direction, of superiority, of leadership of the masses and developments inevitably implies that the masses must accept direction, must submit to it; this, in turn, gives the leaders a sense of being privileged like dictators, of becoming separated from the masses.

In other words, the principles of power come into play — This is in contradiction not only with the central ideas of anarchism, but also our conception of the social revolution. The revolution must be the free creation of the masses, not controlled by ideological or political groups.

The Transition Period

The Platform denies the principle of the transition, period in words yet accepts it as a fact. If the Platform contains an original idea it is precisely on this point, on the detailed description of the idea of the transition period. Everything else is only an attempt to justify this idea.

Some Russian anarcho-syndicalists openly defended this idea a few years ago. The authors of that Platform do not defend the idea of a transition clearly and openly. This vacillation, this conditional acceptance and rejection, makes frank and logical discussion of the issue difficult. For instance, they declare on the issue of majority and minority in the anarchist movement: In principle (the classical conception follows) . . . however, at certain moments it could be that (the compromise follows). . .’

We know that life does not happen in ‘moments’. Another example: ‘We believe that decisions of the soviets wilt be carried out in society without decrees of coercion. But such decisions must be obligatory for everyone who has accepted them, and sanctions must be applied against those who reject them’ This is the start of coercion, violence, sanctions.

The Platform states:

‘Because we are convinced that acceptance of a government will result in the defeat of the revolution and the enslavement of the masses, we must direct all our efforts to have the revolution take the anarchist road . . . But we also recognise that our organisation of labour on the basis of small groups of artisans cannot help us fulfil our goal. This must be recognised in advance by the specific organisations.

The Anarchist Union will lead the discussion and will decide the question in case of disagreement. This is precisely the issue. We find the same contradiction with regard to the defence of the revolution:

‘Politically, whom will the army obey? Since the workers are not represented by a single organisation, they will probably organise various economic organisations. Thus, if we accept the principle of an army, we must also accept the principle of obedience of the army to the economic organisations of the workers and peasants . . .’

This is the transition period!

The Platform states with respect to freedom of press and freedom of speech: ‘There can be specific moments when the press, however well intentioned, will be controlled to an extent for the good of the revolution.’ Who will judge when, these ‘specific moments’ occur? Who will judge what their ‘limits’ should be? There will be authority and power, even though it may be called by some other name.

The Platform writes regarding the anarchist principle ‘From each according to his capacities, to each according to his needs’:

‘This principle is the touchstone of anarchist-communism. But it is a conception of principle: its realisation will depend on the practical steps taken during the early days of the revolution.’ Here again the ‘howevers’. What. then, is the transition period?

It is clear and logical to us: the idea of the necessity to lead the masses to guide developments, therefore the need for elements of power and a transition period. We, on the other hand, regard the essential core of the social revolution to be the role of the mass of the workers who, thrust into the colossal process of social destruction by their historical experience, can achieve the free society in freedom, conscious of what they are doing.


How will production be organised? Will it be centralised and planned the way the Bolsheviks are doing? Will it be too decentralised on a federalist basis?

This is the most important question. The authors of the Platform write: ‘The organisation of production will be carried out by organisations created by the workers — soviets, factory committees which will direct and organise production in the cities, the regions and the nations. They will be linked closely with the masses who elect and control them, and have the power of recall at any time.

The Platform accepts a centralised, mechanical system, giving it the simple corrective of election. This is not enough. We think that changing names of an administrative body by means of an election is no great change. A mechanical, inanimate process can never come alive. So far as we are concerned, the participation of the masses cannot be limited only to ‘electing’. There must be an immediate participation in the organisation of production. As a matter of principle we are not against committees (factory committees, workshop committees), nor against the need for a relationship and co-ordination between them. But these organisations can have a negative aspect: immobility, bureaucracy, a tendency to authoritarianism that will not be changed automatically by the principle of voting. It seems to us that there will be a better guarantee in the creation of a series of other, more mobile, even provisional organs, which arise and multiply according to needs that arise in the course of daily living and activities. Thus, in addition to organisations for distribution, for consumers, for housing, etc. All of these together offer a richer, more faithful reflection of the complexity of social life.
Defence of the Revolution

This is the way the Platform sees the problem:

‘In the first days of the social revolution, the armed forces are formed by all the armed workers and peasants, by the people in arms. But this is only in the first days when the civil war has not reached a climax, when the combatants have not yet coordinated their military organisation. After these early days, the armed forces of the revolution with its general command and general plan of operation. This organisation of struggle against the counter-revolution on battlefields in civil war is under the direction of the workers and peasants producers’ organisations.’

We see two errors here, one technical, one political. The technical error: only a centralised army can defend the revolution. To avoid total confusion, we point out that the opposite is also incorrect, namely, that only isolated, local units with no contact with each other can guarantee the success of the revolution. A highly centralised command developing a general plan of action can lead to catastrophe. Actions without co-ordination are also inefficient. The defects of the first, which do not take local conditions into consideration, are self-evident. The discouragement of local and individual initiative, the weight of the apparatus, the tendency to regard the center as infallible, the priorities of the specialists are all the weaknesses of centralised command. The defects of the second system are self-evident.

How can these problems and defects be resolved? We believe, especially in view of the Russian experience, that the armed participation of the working masses is essential, not only in the first days of revolutionary action, but during the entire period of struggle. Local formations of workers and peasants must be maintained with the understanding that their action is not isolated, but rather coordinated in a common campaign. And even when the situation requires larger armed formations, the command should not be centralised. There should be joint combat effectiveness when necessary, but they must be able to adapt easily to changing situations and take advantage of unforeseen conditions.

It must not be forgotten that the partisan units won the victories in the Russian Revolution against the forces of reaction, Denikin, Kolchak, Wrangel. The central army, with their central command and pre-established strategic planning was always taken by surprise and was unable to adapt to the unexpected. Most of the time, the centralised Red Army arrived late, almost always in to receive the laurels and glory of victory which belonged to the real victors, the partisans. One day history will report the truth about the bureaucracy of military centralisation.

We can be asked how is it possible to defend the social revolution against foreign intervention without a solid centralised army. We respond, first, that this danger should not be exaggerated. Most of the time such an expedition comes from far away with all the difficulties this entails; second, the Russian Revolution had a series of such interventions, and they were all defeated by partisan units, not by the centralised army, by the active resistance of the masses, by the intense revolutionary propaganda addressed to the soldiers and sailors of the invading forces.

Finally, we point out that a centralised army with its central command and ‘political direction’, has too much opportunity to stop being a revolutionary army; consciously or not it becomes an instrument to hold back, a tool of, reaction, of suffocation of the true revolution. We know because history has taught these lessons in the past. The latest example is the Russian Revolution with its Red Army.

The position of the Platform on the role of the army as a ‘political defender’, an ‘arm against reaction’, surprises us. We believe that such an apparatus can have only a negative role for the social revolution. Only the people in arms, with their enthusiasm, their positive solutions to the essential problems of the revolution (particularly in production) can offer sufficient defence against the plots of the ‘bourgeoisie’. And if the people fall, no ‘apparatus’, no ‘army’, no ‘tcheka’ can save the revolution. To disagree with this viewpoint means that the problems of the revolution do not interest the masses except as a political cloak. This is the typically — Bolshevik conception.

This leads to the following conclusion: a leading organisation (the Union) that orients the mass organisations (workers and peasants) in their political direction and is supported as needed by a centralised army is nothing more than a new political power.

Anarchist Organisation

We return to the problem of organisation which is of concern to us. We believe that the disorganisation of the anarchist movement around the world does us great harm. We are convinced that forces and movements must be organised. Three questions arise when we consider the creation of an organisation: the method of establishing an organisation, the aim and essence of an organisation, and its form.

Method of Creating an Anarchist Organisation

Why and how should an anarchist organisation be created? We must start by trying to understand the most important causes of disorganisation among anarchists. It is clear and simple for the authors of the Platform: some anarchists have a ‘disturbed’ character, a sense of ‘irresponsibility’,’ a ‘lack of discipline’. We believe that among a number of causes of disorganisation in anarchist movements, the most important is the vague and imprecise character of some of our basic ideas.

The authors of the Platform agree with this. They speak of ‘contradiction in theory and practice’, of doubts without end’. There are two ways to resolve this question: Take one idea among ‘contradictory ideas’ as the basis, accept it as the common program. If necessary, organise with a certain discipline. At the same time, all who disagree with the program should be excluded and even driven out of the movement. The organisation thus created — the only organisation — will further clarify its ideas (there are comrades who believe that the anarchist ideas on this issue are sufficiently clear). As a serious organisation is created, we will have to devote our best energies to clarify, deepen and develop our ideas.

Above all we must try to reduce the ‘contradictions’ in the field of theory. Our efforts to create an organisation will help us in our ideological work. To put it another way, we will organise our forces as we develop and systematise our ideas.

The authors of the Platform forget that they are following an old road in seeking to create an organisation based on a single ideological and tactical conception. They are creating an organisation that will have more or less hostile relations with other organisations that do not have exactly the same conceptions. They do not understand that this old road will lead inevitably to the same old results; the existence not of a single organisation but of many organisations. They will not be in a co-operative, harmonious relationship, but rather in conflict with each other even though they are all anarchist: each organisation will claim the sole, the profound truth. These organisations will be concerned with polemics against each other rather than developing propaganda and activities to help the anarchist movement in general.

The authors of the Platform speak of the need for ‘ideological and tactical unity’. But how is this unity to be achieved? This is the problem, and there is no satisfactory answer. The method outlined does not lead to unity. On the contrary, it will make the differences, the discussion, among us more acute leading even to hatred.

This approach must be treated as follows? the ‘only’, the ‘true’ theory and tactic of the authors of the Platform must be rejected without further discussion.

However this is not the anarchist way to act. We suggest another course of procedure. We believe that the first step toward achieving unity in the anarchist movement which can lead to serious organisation is collective ideological work on a series of important problems that seek the clearest possible collective solution.

For those comrades who are afraid of philosophical and intellectual digressions and wanderings, we make it clear that we are not concerned with philosophical problems or abstract dissertations, but with concrete questions for which, unfortunately, we do not have clear answers. For example, the questions, among others, of the constructive task of anarchism, of the role of the masses and the conscious minority, of violence, the analysis of the process of social revolution and the problem of the period of transition, the way to the libertarian society, the role of workers and peasants organisations, of the armed groups, the relations with unions, the relationship between communism and individualism, the problem of the organisation of our forces.

How can this be realised?

We suggest that there be a publication for discussion in every country where the problems in our ideology and tactics can be fully discusses, regardless of how ‘acute’ or even ‘taboo’ it may be. The need for such a printed organ, as well as oral discussion, seems to us to be a ‘must’ because it is the practical way, to try to achieve ‘ideological unity’, ‘tactical unity’, and possibly organisation.

There are, however, comrades who refuse to use an organ of discussion. They prefer a series of publications, each defending a particular position. We prefer a single organ with the condition that representatives of all opinions and all tendencies in anarchism be permitted to express themselves and become accustomed to living together. A full and tolerant discussion of our problems in one organ will create a basis for understanding, not only among anarchists, but among the different conceptions of anarchism. This type of agreement to discuss our ideas together in an organised fashion can advance along parallel lines.

Role and Character of Anarchist Organisations

The role and aim of an organisation are fundamental. There cannot be a serious organisation without a clear definition of this question. The aims of an organisation are determined in a large part by its form. The authors of the Platform attribute the role of leading the masses, the unions and all other organisations, as well as all activities and developments to the anarchist organisation. We declare that juxtaposing the words ‘to lead’ with the adverb ‘ideologically’ does not change the position of the Platform’s authors significantly because they conceive the organisation as a disciplined party. We reject any idea that the anarchists should lead the masses. We hope that their role will only be that of ideological collaboration, as participants and helpers fulfilling our social role in a modest manner. We have pointed out the nature of our work: the written and spoken word, revolutionary propaganda, cultural work, concrete living example, etc.

Form of Anarchist Organisation

The contradictions, the semi-confessions, the vacillations in language of the Platform are characteristic on this point. However, in spite of many precautions, their conception appears to be that of any political party: the Executive Committee of the Universal Anarchist Union must, among other things, assume the ideological and organisational direction of every organisation according to the general ideological and tactical line of the Union. At the same time, the Platform affirms its faith in the federalist principle which is in absolute contradiction with the ideas cited above. Federalism means autonomy at the base, federation of local groups, regions, etc., and finally a union of federations and confederations.

A certain ideological and tactical unity among organisations is clearly necessary. But how? In what sense? We cite again the resolution adopted by the Ukrainian organisation, NABAT, at the Kursk conference: ‘A harmonious anarchist organisation in which the union does not have a formal character but its members are joined together by common ideas of means and ends.’

The authors of the Platform begin by affirming: ‘Anarchism has always been the negation of a centralised organisation.’ Yet they then go on to outline a perfectly centralised organisation with an Executive Committee that has the responsibility to give ideological and organisational direction to the different anarchist organisations, which in turn will direct the professional organisations of the workers.

What has happened to federalism? They are only one step away from bolshevism, a step that the authors of the Platform do not dare to take. The similarity between the bolsheviks and the ‘Platform anarchists’ is frightening to the Russian comrades. It makes no difference whether the supreme organ of the anarchist party is called Executive Committee, or if we call it Confederal Secretariat. The proper spirit of an anarchist organisation is that of a technical organ of relations, help and information among the different local groups and federations.

In conclusion, the only original points in the Platform are: its revisionism toward bolshevism hidden by the authors, and acceptance of the transition period. There is nothing original in the rest of the Platform. This cannot be clear to the comrades of other countries because not enough has been published yet in other languages on the Russian Revolution and anarchism in Russia. The comrades therefore do not know much about developments there. Some of them are therefore able to accept the Platform’s interpretation.

However, we think that the ‘acceptance’ will not last long.

We are convinced that discussion of the Platform will help clear up some of the misunderstandings.

Roman Ervantian

The French Anarchist Movement by Giovanna Berneri

photo: George Fontenis

Introduction by Robert Graham

When Georges Fontenis (1920-2010) died earlier this year, he was hailed for his dedication to the revolutionary cause. During his lifetime he was a controversial figure who played a divisive role in the French anarchist movement, seeking to create a unified anarchist movement based an adherence to a common platform, essentially a more traditional leftist form of organization resembling a political party. Predictably, his efforts met with much resistance from many anarchists and split rather than united the French anarchist movement. Giovanna Berneri (1897-1962), veteran anarchist activist, widow of Camillo Berneri and mother of Marie Louise Berneri (Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume Two, Selections 4, 15 & 75), criticizes Fontenis’ approach and reviews its results in this article from 1954, an English translation of which was originally published in David Wieck’s anarchist journal, Resistance (see Volume Two, Selections 38, 39 & 40).

The French Anarchist Movement

In the French movement — or, to be exact, in the important segment associated with the French Anarchist Federation — many of the young people who played a very active part in the post-war period were motivated chiefly by negative concerns: particularly, their unwillingness to put up with the discipline the already existing parties imposed. These young people didn’t see much worth in the deep unchanging impulses which have been the heart of anarchism. Of the basic anarchist ideas, they assimilated — and badly — only those which seemed somehow to jibe with their passion to lead a political army. Living in a time when authoritarian ideas were ascendant everywhere, they believed — and no doubt many believed it sincerely — that the strength of the movement, and the influence of its ideas on society, depended on it achieving organizational and ideological unity. So they tried to organize the French anarchists, except those who chose to remain in groups outside the FAF, into a centralized structure in which the ideas of a single person, or small group, could prevail. This organization had to be provided also — naturally — with a disciplinary machinery able to ensure the absolute fidelity of the members and the exclusion of non-conformists. For anarchism, which demands room to breathe, the broadest possible horizons, and the rejection of fixed structures, all this was the ultimate absurdity.

One more example, really, of the typical Communist splinter-group: Absolutely, they say, the proletariat must be led by a party, but this party must be led by me — or us — as the vanguard Elite.

In this case the elite was very small. To make their will and plans prevail, they took possession of the responsible jobs in the central organization, and gradually transformed these into posts of command. They gained absolute control of the editorial and business management of the newspaper and internal bulletin — of the means, that is, for “tending the souls” of the militants, of domesticating them, of giving them predeformed information about events in the FAF, of pushing them into that ideological unity around a new Catechism which was said to be the only way to save the unity and cohesion of the organization. So powerful did this intolerance and sectarianism become, that everybody who disagreed with the tactics and ideology of Quai de Valmy had to go. Those who tried to resist were expelled. All this, to repeat, is the usual story of the political sect, of the Bordighist and Trotskyist groups and the like. So that finally there was really nothing strange in the decision to change the name of the FAF to the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) and in the explicit repudiation of the word “anarchism” in its official organ.

From the premise that Le Libertaire was aimed at a non-anarchist public, they had deduced, logically and absurdly, that criticism and challenge of its peculiar official viewpoint could not be printed in it. Writings which contradicted the line of the little équipe were not published. The paper became, therefore, more and more political and agitational. Elementary anarchist ideas, such as the need for diversity of opinions and activities, disappeared and were supplanted by propaganda campaigns accompanied by vigorous drum-beating, based on rhetorical slogans, and intended to make people stand up and yell and not to make them think. Exactly the wrong way around. More and more openly, the paper has sought to implant the idea that between the Communist Party’s ideology and anarchist ideas there is more affinity than difference, and that divergence in action has been due to human errors and not to differences in theory. Thus the “parallel texts” — very carefully selected — from Bakunin and Engels, etc.; culminating in the recent episode of Jean Masson’s article on “the meaning of the Djilas affair.”

In analyzing Milovan Djilas’ expulsion from the Central Committee of the Yugoslav CP, Masson developed the familiar Leninist thesis of the role of the vanguard party, the revolutionary organization of the masses to wield a dictatorship in the name of the victorious proletariat. One more translation of Lenin into anarchist terms. In this case the protests within the organization itself seem to have been unusually vigorous and numerous, and the incident was closed with an impudent rectification.

This attempt to sell Communist goods among anarchists was so blatant that it couldn’t be kept quiet. The CRIA (Commission for International Anarchist Relations) felt obliged to invite the FCL delegate to state his position on Masson’s article. Le Libertaire then tried to claim that the theses on dictatorship and the party were Tito’s and not Masson’s: which implied that the heavy thinkers at the Quai de Valmy take all the readers of the paper to be perfect cretins, since one has only to read the article to see that the explanation is utterly absurd.

Another recent incident is one more proof of the sectarian methods and authoritarian purposes of the FCL leaders.

In October, 1953, [Georges] Fontenis, the little boss of the organization, was invited by the Spanish groups in Paris to present his views on anarchist organization to a meeting of comrades. One member of the audience felt he had to express his disagreement with Fontenis: he felt it a duty, in fact, because he was still a member of the FCL. He said it wasn’t right to quote Berneri to justify these Marxist ideas (it’s always the same dishonest game: to use Bakunin, Malatesta or Berneri to put over something quite different), and that this kind of distortion of ideas explained why authoritarianism and centralism reigned within the anarchists’ organization.

These statements were enough to send Fontenis’ critic, together with another comrade who spoke up at the same lecture, before the Commission de Conflit (a kind of internal tribunal, or purge commission, of the FCL), which decided for expulsion. Why? Because they had “publicly” — that was not true, since the lecture was in the headquarters of the Spanish organization — criticized the tactical-ideological “line” adopted by the last Congress, a line that responsible members of the organization were obliged to defend whether they agreed with it or not.

From 1950 forward, the bolshevization of the French anarchist organization, by means of intolerance and sectarianism, has progressed steadily and noticeably. Evidence of growing uneasiness in the groups and regional federations has been increasingly present at the annual congresses. The frankly dishonest methods used by the little équipe in its political manoeuvres were becoming known to many militants, despite the efforts to hide and disguise them. The militants began to see that the shadowy doings at the Quai de Valmy were something other than anarchism. Opposition began to develop, until many individuals and even some groups, in Paris and in the provinces, took a stand.

But the thinner the ranks grew (Fontenis’ following now seems to be around 250 persons), and the more the circulation of the paper declined (probably 5,000 copies are now printed, many unsold [translator’s note: at one time, Le Libertaire was printing 40,000 copies a week]), the more verbally revolutionary has the tone of oratory and articles become. Even if — for example — the “third front” campaign, carried on with great furor, has left no trace except in the sensational Jacobin-style headlines of Libertaire, in the newspaper files in libraries.

Fontenis’ elite guard has itself — it must be said — contributed directly to clearing up the situation. As mentioned, the 1953 Congress of the FAF gave up a word which no longer had any meaning for the leaders of the organization: “anarchist.” The FAF designated itself the FCL. Now we have an exact definition of what the little group around Fontenis is. As there are “Catholic Communists,” or “internationalist Communists,” so in France around Fontenis, holding as gospel the Libertarian Communist Manifesto — a mishmash of a few pages in which all problems and difficulties are disposed of out of hand — there are the “libertarian communists.” Now there is no longer even a formal contradiction between the Statutes of the organization, in which the Leninist principles are re-affirmed, and the activities of the new “leaders,” and the name they have given themselves.

About the work of the group installed in the Quai de Valmy there can no longer be any doubt: they are not working for anarchism but for communism, which means, against anarchism.

At this point the militants who had quit the FAF and had remained apart, and those who had been criticizing the viewpoint and methods of action of the little elite, realized that the only way to deal with the increasingly bolshevik activities of the pseudo-anarchist organization was to re-group themselves and develop their own activity.

On December 25, 26 and 27, 1953, a meeting of opponents of the FCL was held at Paris, and reconstituted the FAF on the basis of clear and honest declarations.

I am not so naive as to base many hopes on the verbal results of a congress. Anyone who has been in the anarchist movement for years, and has taken part in a few congresses, knows the tendency to be satisfied with fine theoretical declarations and to formulate “plans of action” for which means of realization don’t exist. But the FAF congress of last December, even after minimizing it as much as possible, has meaning and importance.

It is the first attempt on any scale (an Entente Anarchiste had been created among opponents of the FAF at a meeting in Mans in 1952) by militants of frankly differing tendencies to bring back to life the anarchism which, if it is not to contradict itself at the start, must do these things: have absolute faith in liberty, repudiate every expression of the principle of authority within it, and be broad and accepting toward ideas which, though not coming from anarchists, imply desires akin to and a direction parallel to our own. These are the characteristics which alone can set our movement apart from the political jungle of our days, from the “left” parties and organizations which are at the service of today’s or tomorrow’s rulers. This is the only way to free ourselves from the aridity of political action, where we are beforehand condemned to futility, so that we can move forward on the multiple levels — not organizable from a Center — of social, personal and local actions, on the job and with our neighbours, freely and with liberating effects.

The French militants in opposition to the FCL have set to work in the revived FAF. They hope to issue a new publication, and to renew and carry on the spirit and work of Louise Michel, Sébastien Faure and all those who gave themselves to defend and clarify anarchist ideas. We know this won’t be easy. In the nearly complete ruin of moral values which authority has brought in our time, anarchism is the last ditch of a radical defence of the remaining vitality, and the beginning of its rebirth. They have to do pioneer work, starting almost from zero (and this is true also for us Italians). Like all pioneer work, it requires clarity and courage, tenacity and uprightness, devotion and sacrifice, and no illusory hope of easy, great, early results.

As I have already mentioned, other groupings within the French movement, but outside the FAF, are active. The existence outside the principal organization of smaller groups, united by affinity of ideas, is characteristic of all anarchist movements. In France there are the groups which publish the papers Défense de l’homme, Contre courant, L’Unique: the first primarily pacifist, the second more integrally anarchist, the third an expression of a typically French individualist tendency.

We must also mention certain groups in Paris and the provinces which oppose the FCL, but are seeking to draw the conclusions of their experience with the “central,” and tend to remain autonomous, that is to belong to no organization but keep in close touch with all. In Paris a noteworthy group is the Kronstadt Group, composed mostly of intelligent young people animated by serious intentions, which may constitute a good promise for the future.


Volontà, May 1954

Anarcho-Communists, Platformism, and Dual Power: Innovation or Travesty? by Lawrence Jarach

“...When a revolutionary situation develops, counter-institutions have the potential of functioning as a real alternative to the existing structure and reliance on them becomes as normal as reliance on the old authoritarian institutions. This is when counter-institutions constitute dual power.

Dual power is a state of affairs in which people have created institutions that fulfill all the useful functions formerly provided by the state. The creation of a general state of dual power is a necessary requirement for a successful revolution...”

— Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation New York Local Member Handbook; June, 1997

“...What we need is a theory of the state that starts with an empirical investigation of the origins of the state, the state as it actually exists today, the various experiences of revolutionary dual power, and post-revolutionary societies...”

— After Winter Must Come Spring: a Self-Critical Evaluation of the Life and Death of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (New York); 2000

“...A revolutionary strategy seeks to undermine the state by developing a dual power strategy. A dual power strategy is one that directly challenges institutions of power and at the same time, in some way, prefigures the new institutions we envision. A dual power strategy not only opposes the state, it also prepares us for the difficult questions that will arise in a revolutionary situation... [A] program to develop local Copwatch chapters could represent a dual power strategy, since monitoring the police undermines state power by disrupting the cops’ ability to enforce class and color lines and also foreshadows a new society in which ordinary people take responsibility for ensuring the safety of their communities.”

— Bring The Ruckus statement (Phoenix, AZ); Summer, 2001

“...As anarchist communists, our strategy of transforming society is the establishment of dual power: creating alternative and democratic institutions while simultaneously struggling against the established order. If we ever hope to succeed, anarchist actions cannot be random and uncoordinated. We should strive for strategic & tactical unity and coordination in all anarchist factions and affinity groups.”

— Alcatraz magazine (Oakland, CA); February, 2002

“...[W]e feel that it is necessary to develop a long term strategy, and to place all our actions in the framework of that strategy...this framework draws most heavily from the Platformist tradition [sic] within anarchism. This is not to say that one must, or even should, agree with the specifics of the original Organization Platform of the Libertarian Communists, but is rather a recognition of the importance of collective responsibility, discipline, and tactical unity which the Platformist tradition [sic] puts forward. Clearly then, the framework laid out in this document recognizes that many of those who today identify as ‘anarchists’ will strongly disagree with this most basic assumption, and therefore will find the entire framework less than satisfactory. However, our priority, as stated above, is the creation of a mass anarchist movement, and where we feel that building such a movement means alienating others who identify as anarchists, we should have no problem in doing so.

Further, it is necessary to clarify that this framework assumes that it is through the creation of dual power and a culture of resistance that a truly mass, working-class based, anarchist revolutionary movement will be born...”

— “Toward The Creation Of An Anarchist Movement: From Reactive Politics to Proactive Struggle” in Barricada; Agitational Monthly of the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists [NEFAC] #16 (Boston, MA); April, 2002

“We want Dual Power. We seek to build popular power that can contest and replace state and capitalist power. We actively work to create a new world in the shell of the old — politically, culturally and economically. We do this by both challenging and confronting oppressive institutions and establishing our own liberatory ones.”

— Announcement of the formation of the Federation of Revolutionary Anarchist Collectives (FRAC) (East Lansing, MI); August, 2002

“I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

— Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride

* * *

My use of quotes from each of these projects has nothing to do with whether or not they are large or influential in terms of numbers of members or supporters, but with the fact that they have published statements where the term dual power has made a prominent appearance. The discussion of what actually constitutes this dual power is sparse; when it does occur, it is either vague or unintentionally funny. It is my intention to examine what the term might mean to those self-described anarchists who use it and why it is used by this particular constellation of anarcho-communists.

What is “anarchist dual power”?

Various projects have been suggested as examples of incipient dual power. There are a few questions that I feel must be answered in order for any real discussion to take place between the partisans of this odd formulation and those who remain skeptical of its relevance to anarchist theory and practice. Are the examples of “anarchist dual power” just anarchist-operated alternatives to current non-revolutionary projects? Are they counter-institutions that replace current non-revolutionary projects with more “democratic” control? Do any of them have the potential prestige, influence, or notoriety to challenge the smooth operation of capitalism and the state? Then there’s the question of centralization versus diffusion; is bigger better, or is more better? Do these projects require copies, or do they inspire others that are better and more relevant? Are they examples of direct action and self-organization, or do they come with leaders and directors (sometimes called “influential militants” or “revolutionary nuclei”)? Are they used to recruit followers and/or cadre, or are they used to promote solidarity and mutual aid?

Bring The Ruckus champions Copwatch, while others propose extending Independent Media Centers, micropower radio stations, zines, Food Not Bombs. Infoshops, cafes, performance spaces, and other hangouts are sometimes mentioned in the context of “the creation of dual power.” Barter networks, worker collectives, food co-ops, independent unions, and squats also get brought up on occasion. These self-organized projects exist currently for providing mutual aid and support to various communities around the world. They are alternative infrastructures for taking care of the needs of antiauthoritarians trying to eke out some kind of decent living. Creating and maintaining an antiauthoritarian infrastructure of autonomous institutions is good practice for making and carrying out some important decisions in our lives, but it’s impossible for me to believe that these projects could have the potential to challenge the loyalty of non-subculture people toward the state. Until people’s allegiance to the state begins to shift toward these or other alternative or counter-institutions, there’s nothing that even remotely resembles dual power in the works. Indeed, until the state feels threatened by these independent institutions, those who sit in the places of real power will continue to ignore them. Either that or they will silently cheer them on because voluntarism is more efficient (and less expensive to them) than welfare programs. Using the term dual power to describe Food Not Bombs, or your local infoshop, or even your local autonomous union, is a parody of history.

“What constitutes the essence of dual power? We must pause upon this question, for an illumination of it has never appeared in historic literature... a class, deprived of power, inevitably strives to some extent to swerve the governmental course in its favor. This does not as yet mean, however, that two or more powers are ruling in society... The two-power regime arises only out of irreconcilable class conflicts — is possible, therefore, only in a revolutionary epoch, and constitutes one of its fundamental elements.” Trotsky, The History of the Russian Revolution

“The basic question of every revolution is that of state power. Unless this question is understood, there can be no intelligent participation in the revolution, not to speak of guidance of the revolution. The highly remarkable feature of our revolution is that it has brought about a dual power... Nobody previously thought, or could have thought, of a dual power. What is that dual power? Alongside the...government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing — the Soviets of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies...The fundamental characteristics of this [dual power] are:

the source of power is not a law previously discussed and enacted by parliament, but the direct initiative of the people from below, in their local areas...;

the replacement of the police and the army, which are institutions divorced from the people and set against the people, by the direct arming of the whole people; order in the state under such a power is maintained by the armed workers and peasants themselves, by the armed people themselves;

officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control...”

Lenin, Pravda April 9, 1917

Lenin and Trotsky were the ones who originally used the term, so we must look at what they said about it and how they meant it. For these two theorists of Bolshevism, dual power is a condition of revolutionary tension, where the allegiance of the population is split between bourgeois (or non-bourgeois) rule and the incipient governing power of “the people” (through their deputies in the soviets). A general arming of “the people” is a central characteristic of such a revolutionary moment. For Lenin and Trotsky, the term dual power is used as a descriptive category rather than a strategy; looking back on the revolution in Petrograd in 1905, in which the first soviet (council) came into existence spontaneously, Trotsky formulated the term to describe the situation. For Leninists, dual power is the ultimate revolutionary conflict, when the state must fight to survive: overt challenges to its ability to govern are made by councils that, as well as commanding the loyalty of a majority of the population, have the ability to execute and enforce their decisions.

The two main factors leading to a divergent loyalty to each government in Russia in 1917 were domestic and foreign policy. Domestically, the Provisional Government had a difficult time solving the conflicts between workers and owners and between peasants and landlords; being bourgeois, its members wanted the resolution to be based on legal and peaceful compromise. The more radical members of the soviets, factory committees, and peasant committees were interested in worker control and expropriation of property — hence some tension. Externally, the Provisional Government was committed to continuing Russian military involvement in the First World War, while the Bolsheviks were split between those who wanted to conclude a separate peace (Lenin) and those who wanted to widen the war into a general European revolutionary class war (Trotsky). This was the second, and arguably the more crucial, tension that existed between the Provisional Government and the growing power of the Bolshevik-dominated soviets. Incidentally, the decision-making process was not one of the causes of the tension. The soviets could have been what they eventually became within a year — rubber stamping organs of Bolshevik dictatorship over the workers — and still constituted organs of dual power so long as their members were armed and willing to confront the police and military formations still loyal to the bourgeois state.

Dual power in its original sense, then, is not a program or even a strategy, but a description of a transitional political tension and conflict that must be resolved. The Bolsheviks knew that their periodicals didn’t constitute organs of dual power; they knew that their meeting-places didn’t; they knew that their legal aid committees didn’t; they knew that all of their self-help groups didn’t. They were clear that the organs of dual power were the soviets of workers, peasants, and soldiers, which were making and executing decisions on production and distribution of goods and services, ownership and control of factories and land, and how to deal with an imperialist war. As authoritarians and statists, they were equally clear that these organs needed to be guided and ultimately controlled by them in order to create the necessary infrastructure for a new “workers’ government.” The Bolsheviks understood that this tension must inevitably end either in revolution or reaction. The situation of dual power must end with the state crushing the (more or less) independent power of counter-institutions based on an armed population, or the successful taking over/replacement of the state by “the people” and their counter-institutions.

I have no objections to the adoption of non-anarchist ideas, models, or vocabulary to anarchist theory and practice; many aspects of anarchism would be impossible to describe without Marxist language and ideas. However, it is usually clear from the context of their usage that when anarchists say certain things that are also said by Marxists, their meanings are different: “revolution,” for example. Language changes through time, but the insinuation of the term dual power into anarchist discourse is a sign of muddled thinking and creeping Leninism, the unfortunate legacy of Love & Rage and similar groupings. Its use by those who call themselves anarchists to describe a situation that is supposed to be anarchist is ahistorical and therefore inaccurate. Its use by Revolutionary Anarchists is vague (at best), confusing — and confused — and too far outside the realm of normative anarchism to accept. Anyone with even a basic grasp of radical history will be able to recognize this. It is a borrowed term with a borrowed history; that history cannot be separated from the term.

Love & Rage and the influence and legacy of Leninism

The Love & Rage project began in the late 1980s when the desire for a mass anarchist federation coincided with the supposed defection to anarchism of all members of the New York-based Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League. The RSL had been flirting with anarchists as early as ’83, when they began having comradely relations with the New York chapter of the Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist group. L&R took over all the resources of the RSL, including their newspaper (The Torch). This capital extraction allowed them to create a new kind of anarchism — one that was heavily influenced by a mixture of traditional Leninism, New Leftist identity politics, and anti-imperialism. They called it “revolutionary anarchism” and sometimes referred to their ideas as “anarcho-communism” even though they had little to do with the theories and ideas of Kropotkin, Malatesta, Goldman, and others.

They were constantly working on their Statement of Principles, which was meant to show their distinctions from other anarchist and Leninist tendencies. Fewer and fewer individuals worked on the statement, feeding rumors of a small group of influential cadre who were really in control; the many other pseudonyms of “Ned Day” were seen as a cover for the dearth of diverse voices. The specter of democratic centralism was spreading. There had been similar speculation from the very beginning. At the conference where the name of the project and their newspaper was decided, some participants had the feeling that the decisions had been made prior to the actual conference, that the conference was used as a public rubberstamp to create a false democratic face for the organization. The strong influence of Bolshevism is clear. One participant at the founding conference even went so far as to suggest that they name the paper The Torch.

Hooked into the opportunist politics of anti-imperialism, members of L&R were expected to be supportive of the national liberation movements of oppressed peoples in their struggles to create new states. This generates its own contradictions; but in one of the later incarnations of the Statement, the organization came out in favor of “weaker states” in their struggles against “stronger states.” Especially galling at that time (of Operation Desert Shield followed by the Gulf Massacre of 1990-91) was that this was clearly a reference to Iraq — this even after the revelations of the previous mass gassings of Kurds, among other atrocities perpetrated by this “weaker state.” Such was their commitment to anti-statism, the cornerstone of anarchism.

Having learned nothing from the previous attempts to create national or continental anarchist federations, L&R — immediately after it formed — began to lose members through attrition, and the group split not once, but twice; the final split fractured the membership in three directions. Like most similar organizations, at a certain point the tension between ideological flexibility and conformity came to a head, with many feeling that the organizational model chosen and used by L&R after the first split had become incompatible with anarchist ideas. Others decided that the problem was not with the organizational model, but with the anarchism, and they descended into Maoism. Indeed, well before the final split (it could be argued from its very inception), L&R looked and sounded more and more like a Marxist-Leninist outfit with a circle-A clumsily slapped over a hammer-and-sickle. This is the legacy that L&R has left to groups like NEFAC and Bring The Ruckus, both of which include former members of L&R.

NEFAC is a champion of the Platform. Regardless of their criticisms of specifics (what is not included in it), NEFAC members find the overall idea of a highly structured organization with written bylaws and other formal disciplinary measures to be a positive development for anarchists. The Platform was written by several veterans and supporters of the Makhnovist insurgent army of the Ukraine, which was active from 1918-1921. Having successfully beaten the Whites (counter-revolutionaries fighting for the restoration of the monarchy and private capitalism), the Ukrainian anarchists had to face Trotsky’s Red Army. The Makhnovists were finally defeated. Makhno and several of his general staff eventually escaped to Paris, where, after a number of years of recovering and establishing contacts with other anarchist exiles from the Soviet Union, they began a project that culminated in the publication and circulation of the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists. In this document, they attempted to explain and understand the reasons for their loss in particular, and the more general loss of an antiauthoritarian people’s revolution to the Bolsheviks. They decided that among the main causes were that the anarchists were not disciplined and dedicated (and ruthless?) enough. As a result, they attempted to emulate the political formation of the victorious Bolsheviks (democratic centralism, an untouchable central committee) without using the terminology of the Bolsheviks. They wanted to out-Bolshevize the Bolsheviks, in the hopes of winning the next round of the struggle. It was for these reasons that the Platform was publicly condemned by ex-Makhnovists (including Voline), anarcho-communists (like Malatesta), and others as being a sectarian attempt to create an anarchist program with a Bolshevik organizational structure. The Platform project was unsuccessful.

There is a nagging question in this organizational discussion: why have the promoters of formally structured membership organizations taken an example from a historically unimportant document, an example of unrivalled ineffectiveness? Why have they not used as a model the most “successful” anarchist mass organization — the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation)? From the time of its official founding in 1927, the FAI was feared by government agents, and cheered by a majority of Spanish anarchists. In the decade of their revolutionary activity the members of the FAI made many mistakes, most notably the entry of some of its members into the Catalan and Spanish governments in 1936. Despite that extremely serious lapse in judgment, the fact remains that the FAI was a real and functioning anarchist federation, and commanded a lot of respect both inside and outside the Spanish anarchist movement. A practical issue that makes the FAI a better example of anarchist organization is that it was based on real affinity groups, developed as an extension of members’ familiarity and solidarity with each other. This is in stark contrast to the Platform model, which proposes a pre-existing structure that collectives are supposed to join; it puts the cart before the horse, creating a federative project where there may be no need and no interest in creating a federation in the first place. Members of the FAI had known and been active with each other for many years before they decided to create the Federation, mostly as a response to legal repression against the broader anarchist movement during the 1920s. Its members maintained their ties to a traditional and recognizable form of anarchism. After it was allowed to operate openly, only its reformist rivals condemned it as being anarcho-Bolshevik; other anarchists sometimes condemned it for being too liberal (i.e. generous to its enemies).

The Platform, on the other hand, did not result in anything concrete, other than its condemnation from almost all contemporary anarchist activists and writers as a call for some bizarre hybrid of anarchism and Bolshevism. No actual General Union of Libertarian Communists was formed after the Organizational Platform was circulated. The project of creating a semi-clandestine militarized vanguard (complete with an executive committee) of anarcho-communists was soon after abandoned by the Russian exiles. For almost 70 years the document itself languished in relative obscurity, a curio from anarchist history, something to titillate the trivia-minded. What made it worth rediscovering?

The anarcho-communism of the Platformists is eerily similar to the authoritarian communism of various Leninist gangs. From a cursory examination of their published rhetoric, it is difficult not to conclude that they have taken the “successful” aspects of a Leninist program, a Leninist vision, and Lenino-Maoist organizing, and more or less removed or modified the vocabulary of the more obviously statist parts. The promoters of this hybridized anarchism — should it be called anarcho-Leninism? — draw on the Platform the same way that the writers of the Platform drew on Leninism. In doing this, the Platformists are in turn trying to reclaim a moment in anarchist history that had been largely (and well-deservedly) forgotten as an embarrassment. By fabricating a “Platformist tradition,” they hope to give themselves an impeccable anarchist pedigree, allowing the discussion of “anarchist dual power” to occur without needing to justify such a contradictory concept. Unfortunately for them, however, there was never such a “Platformist tradition.”

The creation of “anarchist dual power” by the descendants and disciples of Love & Rage goes against the ideas of a more recognizable anarchism (that is, one not directly influenced by Leninist ideas). The fans of this “anarchist dual power” have adopted a, shall we say, unique perspective on the issue of dual power. Historically the term dual power has been used as a way of understanding the class-based tensions that lead either to periods of reaction or political (i.e. statist) revolution. It is clearly meant to describe a condition of loyalty split between an existing state and a state-in-formation. As the L&R Member Handbook correctly states (as quoted above): “Dual power is a state of affairs in which people have created institutions that fulfill all the useful functions formerly provided by the state.” How this “state of affairs” can be anti-statist is never explained — for the unspectacularly simple reason that it cannot be explained within an anti-statist conceptual model. The entire dual power discourse is concerned with government, with how to create and maintain a set of institutions that can pull the allegiance of the governed away from the existing state. Unless the partisans of dual power have worked out a radically different understanding of what power is, where its legitimacy comes from, how it is maintained, and — more importantly — how anarchists can possibly exercise it within a framework that is historically statist, the discussion of “anarchist dual power” is a mockery of the anarchist principle of being against government.